What’s the Difference Between “Sleep” and “Asleep”?

I’ve been feeling rather lazy this week. So it’s a good time to talk about a few confusing words in English related to sleeping.

Sleep is both a noun and a verb. As a noun, it means that time when you are unconscious (aren’t aware of the world around you), usually at night.

For example, we can say “I need some sleep because I am very tired.” (Notice we say “some” sleep and not “a” sleep.)

To sleep (verb) means to be in the condition or “state” of sleep. We might say, “He is sleeping” or “He sleeps at night for 8 hours.”

The past tense of sleep is slept, so we say “He slept for seven hours yesterday.”

But what about asleep? Well, asleep is neither a noun nor a verb. We do not say “I need some asleep” or “He is asleeping.”

However, there is a phrasal verb, “to fall asleep,” which means to go into the state of sleep, as in “He fell asleep after drinking a bottle of whiskey.”

Normally, asleep is used as an adjective (and less commonly, as an adverb).

For example, you can say “He was asleep by 11:00 PM last night” or “He is asleep now.”

To say that someone is asleep is the same as saying that the person is sleeping.

We also use asleep to describe a computer that has become temporarily inactive – “My computer is asleep.”

And there’s one more related use of asleep: when your leg, arm, or feet become numb (you can’t feel them), it may be because they are “asleep.”

All the talk of sleep is making me even more tired, so I better stop before I fall asleep!


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